Hop-Frog's Drum Jester Devotional - Bets Ov Volume 1 (URCKarm Recordings CD)
No idea why the album art (that I got from the label's website) sez "Volume 1 and Volume 2", because I took it right off their page, being too lazy to scan in my own. Another emission from a very weird subterranean Californian sect, the Hop-Frog Collective. Maybe you'll recall some time ago I reviewed a summer slammer from the group operating under their Refrigerator Mothers configuration. If not, run a search then come back to this one because I'm not about to explain the whole deal all over again. Hop-Frog's Drum Jester Devotional is comprised of three members from the Hop-Frog Kollectiv, those being E.loi, Carl F. Off and Hermit the Flog. Yeah I don't know either. I'm not really sure if this is a compilation of previously recorded tracks (there are a few songs boasting titles that hint at alternate mixes of other songs) or an actual LP or what but if there's one thing I've come to know by now, it's how tough it is to get a read on what's going on with these dudes.
"Bets Ov Volume 1" is a strange amalgam of instrumental songs heavily attuned to vibes emanating from the Eastern world, or at least the non-Western one because sometimes they get a little extra-terrestrial too. Moreso than the Refrigerator Mothers (whose approach I felt to be considerably more out-rock), the Drum Jester Devotional seem dedicated to making music truer to mid-Eastern form but without the tongue-in-cheek goofiness of, say, the Sun City Girls. Case in point: the squealing pungi/flutes and incredibly propulsive 4/4 drumming on "Eastern Spleen 3 (DonkeyBeat Mix)", "Love in a Minefield (Valmara Version Version)"'s marriage of whining flutes and a slithery industrial computerized squelch rhythm and the awesome yodel/tabla/flute funk of the 13-minute opus "Germ of Sorrow 2". Other tracks feature stronger Western input, typically in the form of electronica beats or near-IDM touches, like "L'amour du Nil (PoppyLove Mix)" and its cinematic marching-band scope, "ElephantsAgony (Tranquiliser Dart Mix)"'s syrupy execution and injected samples, and especially "You Can't Do That to Me, I'm an American (Nonsense Mix)" and "Cherries of War (Epic Banana Mix)" which could both pass as Squarepusher b-sides or undiscovered tracks from a jungle compilation.
There's obviously a lot of sampling going on here, but I'll be damned if I can guess where it's coming from. The main approach for almost all the tracks here is to flesh out a rhythmic hook and then ride it out until wherever the song should end - and like a lot of the material here, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. At almost 70 minutes, "Bets Ov" could benefit greatly from some editing, not to mention better art direction: the MS Paint collages and colors remind me of a DVD bootleg you'd purchase while you're actually in a place like Morroco or Beijing, but since the only time I ever hear about these guys is when their packages show up in my mailbox, I can't exactly imagine them rolling in money either...so I can't be too harsh on that front. I should also make clear that the actual colors on the cover don't look nearly as horrific as they do in the picture up there, but it's still not winning any prizes. I'm still pretty baffled by the Hop-Frog Kollectiv's general course of action but "Bets Ov" is helping to convince me that maybe these guys are nothing more from putting together a true mind-splitter of an album if the planets align just right. There's some samples on their website you'd do well to check out...I think it'll give you a better idea of what they sound like than any of my words ever could.